Photo of Joe Biden

Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre

May 06, 2021

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Lake Charles, LA

11:40 A.M. EDT

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hi, everybody. Okay. Good morning. As you all know, we're traveling to Lake Charles and New Orleans today as part of getting back -- Getting America Back on Track Tour.

The President will deliver remarks in Lake Charles, where he will lay out the choice facing the American people: either investing in the middle class and our economic strength, or cutting taxes for the wealthy and big corporations.

In New Orleans, he'll tour the Carrollton Water Plant and discuss the critical need for investments in water infrastructure.

We need to act on infrastructure. In Louisiana alone, there are over 1,600 bridges and 3,400 miles of highway in poor condition. In the past decade, Louisianans have seen a nearly 10 percent increase in commute times. In the past decade, the state has experienced dozens of extreme weather events, costing the state up to $50 billion in damages.

Sixty percent of Louisianans live in areas where there is only one Internet provider with access that meets minimally acceptable speeds.

And the data show that Louisianans' drinking water infrastructure alone will require more than $7 billion in additional funding over the next 20 years.

The President's American Jobs Plan, if passed, would address all of the urgent needs and much more.

Both Lake Charles and New Orleans are examples of why our country needs big, bold investments in resilient, forwarding looking -- forward-looking infrastructure.

From climate change-related natural disasters and weather events to systemic underfunding, these Louisiana cities show -- show why we need to make critical investments in our country's physical and human infrastru- -- infrastructure to become competitive in the 21st century.

And also, in the remarks in Lake Charles, President Biden will lay out the stark contrast between the middle-class agenda he's outlined -- investing in working families, investing in infrastructure, creating jobs, and strengthening our economy -- and an opposing vision that has placed tax cuts for the wealthy and giveaways to big corporations over -- over all -- over all else.

Standing in front of a 70-year-old bridge, 20 years older than its designed lifespan, the President will talk about the investments that a -- that a fairer tax code will pay for in our country's infrastructure and its economic vital- -- vitality, including $115 billion for roads and bridges, and hundreds of billions of dollars more in upgrading our electrical grid and water infrastructure, rebuilding homes, and other areas.

He'll also underscore the economic impact of these investments, particularly what they mean for working-class Americans, noting that nearly 90 percent of infrastructure jobs created by his plan wouldn't require a college degree. As the President has said before, this is a blue-collar blueprint to build America.

In Lake Charles, the President will also be joined by Republican mayor -- who recently penned an op-ed with the Democratic mayor of Shreveport on the need to pass the American Jobs Act -- and the Democratic Governor of Louisiana. And he'll note that these investments in our infrastructure have been bipartisan priorities for decades.

And he'll also -- he'll pose a basic question to the country and to members of Congress: "What is better for America: a tax cut to make corporations and CEO -- CEOs richer or investments that will make our country stronger and make -- make life better for people who build and sustain this country?"

Today, the White House released factsheets that highlight the need for -- for and impact of the investment proposed by President Biden in the American Families Plan in states and territories across the country. Individual factsheets were released for each of the 50 states; the District of Columbia; and the U.S. territories, including America Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

The factsheets highlight how many families would benefit from free community college and universal pre-K, the high costs of childcare, the number of workers who lack access to paid family leave, and the thousands of dollars families and workers would save in tax cuts and credits in every state.

Also today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary, Becerra, announced that nearly 940,000 Americans have signed up for health insurance through Healthcare.gov as a result of the Biden administration's special enrollment period for the COVID-19 public health emergency.

From now until August 15th, 2021, consumers who want to enroll in coverage, compare -- compare plan offerings, or see if they qualify for more affordable premiums can visit Healthcare.gov to view 2021 plans and prices, and enroll in a plan that best meets their needs.

Also today, data from the National Center for Education Statistics show that in March, 54 percent of K-through-8 schools were open for fulltime, in-person learning, and 88 percent were open for either fulltime, in-person, and/or hybrid learning, reaffirming that we've reached the President's goal of reopening the majority of K-through-8 schools ahead of schedule.

Today's data also shows positive trendlines of increasing numbers of Black, Hispanic, Asian, and American Indian and Alaska Native students enrolled in in-person learning since January.

Both the President and Secretary Cardona are encouraged by this important process -- progress, but the administration will not rest until 100 percent of schools are safely open for fulltime, in-person learning to all students -- especially with many Black, Hispanic, and Asian students; as well as multilingual learners; and students with disabilities still learning fully remote. The Department of Education will continue to work with students, families, educators, states, and districts to ensure our education system serves all students, not just some.

All right, Josh. Do you want to kick us off?

Q: Karine, the -- oh, sorry. Do you want to go ahead first? And I'll do -- I'll go after you.

Q: Sure.

Q: Let's just talk up really loud because we can't hear a single word.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. I'm so sorry. I will do my best.

Q: Okay. Thanks again so much. Real simple -- Florida signed in new laws on voting today; they're slightly different from Georgia. What is the administration's take on what Florida is doing?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thanks, Josh, for the question. The 2020 Election was one of the most secure elections in American history. There's no legitimate reason to change the rules right now to make it harder to vote; that's built on a lie. The only reason to change the rules right now is if you don't like who voted, and that should be out of bounds.

There are some states with bad laws that are trying to make them good and some states with good laws, trying to make them even better. That's moving forward.

Florida is moving in the wrong direction. We need to be working to make sure voting is secure and convenient, and that's part of why we need to -- the laws like H.R. 1.

Q: And then, you're going to a state that has consistently voted Republican for presidential candidates since 2000, trying to push an infrastructure and Families Plan. You've already heard Republicans say they don't want your tax increases, and they don't want to go more than $600 billion. So how much is the administration willing to come down? Or does it expect Republicans to meet it somewhere in the middle?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, let me just, first, say that one of the reason -- the reasons that he's going to Louisiana is -- and the President says this all the time -- even though he is a Democratic President, he's a President for everyone -- right? -- for Republicans, Democrats, independents. And so, he is coming to Louisiana to talk about, clearly, the American Jobs Plan, which, by the way, is very popular with Republicans, with independents, and with Democrats.

And so, as far as the negotiations that -- as far as, you know, the negotiations, we are -- we are all for the good-faith efforts. We are contin- -- going to continue to have conversations with Republicans and Democrats about ways to make this happen.

We have to remember, when we -- when we think about this infrastructure plan, when we think about the American Jobs Plan, it is a once-in-a-generation investment in our country. And this is not just about this moment; this is about the future. And so, this is how this President looks at it. And not only that, as we all know, what he also put in the plan is how -- that this could fully pay for itself.

And so, the only red line that this President has is inaction. We cannot -- we cannot go back to where we were before -- before this pandemic; we have to keep moving forward.

So, like I said, we will continue -- he will continue to have conversations with both Democrats and Republicans, which he has been doing.

I think I said this on the last time I was on the plane, which was: The first 100 days, both -- both the President and White House senior officials met with more than 130 congressional members from both sides of the aisle. And so, that's what we're going to continue to do.

Next week, he's -- on May 12th, he's going to meet with the bipartisan leadership from both Congress -- from both the House and the Senate. And so, he's going to continue to have that conversation.

Capito -- as we know, she put forth a counteroffer. He's going to have a conversation with her and the -- and the senators of her choosing once that meeting is locked in.

Q: Is another red line -- is this -- to be clear: Is another red line "no deficit spending"? Is that 100 percent his -- his position?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So let's talk about the deficit spending for a second. So, raising or suspending the debt ceiling does not authorize new spending; it merely allows Treas- -- Treasury to meet obligation that Congress had already approved. Right?

So what we have currently -- as you know, Alex -- is like what Congress has approved already and what previous Congress has approved.

When we talk about the American Jobs Plan, when we talk about the Americans Family Plan, that is going to be paid for. Right? That's the -- that's what he put into the plan.

So, we expect Congress to act in a timely manner to raise or suspend the debt ceiling, as they've done three times on a broad bipartisan basis during the last administration.

Q: But, to be clear, on these -- on these plans, he is not going to favor anything that it -- that would add to the debt or the deficit?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, we're -- we don't want to conflate the two; that's what we're trying to say. Right? But --

Q: But the President, yesterday, said, it's got to be paid for. It's got to be paid for.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Right. Because he believes that we can -- his economic policy has always been this, which is: We have to meet everyone -- we have to -- everyone has to come and -- and actually, you know -- and get the right experience from the economic -- economic -- when we have an economic flow -- an economic rise. Right? When we think about the GDP going up, it should -- it should benefit everyone.

And so, this is why he believes we cannot put this burden on -- on Americans. And he wants to make sure that it's paid for, that this plan is -- continues to be paid for. That's why he put that in there.

And so we're going to have a conversation, he's going to have the conversation, White House senior officials will have conversations -- with Republicans, with Democrats -- on how to move forward with this plan. But again, he believes that we cannot put the burden on the American people, especially in this moment of this pandemic, this economic crisis. So we have to figure out how to pay for this.

He's willing to negotiate. That's what he said yesterday. But he wants to make sure that this plan is paid for.

Q: So, you said the spending isn't -- you know, the President has said deficit spending is a line. He also said yesterday that he would be willing to come down on the corporate tax increase. At the same time, the White House has said they're against user fees, like gasoline tax increases or vehicle miles taxes, to fund this project. So, if he does come down on the corporate tax increases, what other payfors would the White House support to make sure this is deficit neutral?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We're going to keep having -- we're going to have those conversations with congressional members, right? We'll -- we will put a -- we will -- he put out his plan. Right? He laid it out the way that he thought this should be done.

And we have to remember this kind of -- this -- these economic policies -- when you look at the investment in infrastructure; when you look at the investment in people, in families, with the American Families Plan -- this is something that is deeply needed in this country to move forward. We're talking about years and years, generations, of really lifting up people and making it easy for folks -- just everyday Americans.

So, we're going to have those conversations. He's going to talk to congressional members next week, and we will -- we will see where we land and what -- what the negotiations are. I don't have more to say on that.

Q: And then, on the COVID vaccine -- sorry, I just had one more. On the COVID vaccine waivers: There are reports that Secretary Raimondo and other administration officials were opposed to granting those waivers. Can you confirm that? And if so, are -- their opposition -- is that going to be taken into account when Ambassador Tai is in negotiations with the WTO over the extent of this waiver?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I can say this: There was no split. We discussed this issue and listened to a number of experts before presenting options to the President. That is exactly how government should work.

And if we go back to the campaign, the President supported this -- the waiver, as you know -- and the way that he talked about it, then, as a humanitarian right, like we need to -- we need to lead on this issue and to help save lives. We have to understand that we are -- as you all know, because we're all standing here with masks -- and we all know that we have been living in an unprecedented time with this pandemic, and we have to do everything that we can to save lives.

So, this is a decision, as you know, that -- that the United States has taken. This is a WTO process, and there will be conversation. This will take time. It's not going to happen tomorrow or the next day. It will take a few months before this happens, and we will continue to have the conversation, and -- and also just continue the negotiations.

Q: Just to confirm. Just to confirm. You just said the options were presented to the President -- that means the President made this decision?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I'm so sorry.

Q: You said that options were presented to the President. Does that mean the President was involved in and made this decision?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yes, he made this decision.

Q: And did you say -- did you answer specifically about whether Commerce Secretary Raimondo was opposed to this?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I said there's no -- there was no split in this decision. Yep.

Q: Got it. Okay. And then just -- how would you respond to people, like Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez, who we say you actually need to use this kind of strategy more broadly to deal with things like insulin, other areas of the -- you know, where medical prices are too high for people.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I'll say this: Look, we support the waiver, as you know. Obviously, this is a complex issue, and there will be a lot of work and details ahead to make sure that the end result is -- fits for the purpose. And that's what we're focusing right now. How do we save lives in this middle of the pandemic? That is our focus.

It's about -- the waiver is clearly the lec- -- the intellectual properties protection is on the COVID vaccine, and that's our focus right now.

Q: And what are you telling the industry about their opposition to this? How do you respond to that? What do you (inaudible) to Pfizer and to all of these companies that are saying --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, look, you know, these companies we've been working closely with have been saving lives. And, you know, we will continue to work closely with them to make the lifesaving benefits available to most people as quickly as possible, including through our existing contracts.

Q: You said the Republicans support the infrastructure plan. But polls show the Republicans -- the majority of them do not support the infrastructure plan. Why are you saying that Republicans support the Presi- --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: The polling that we have seen, as far as the American Jobs Plan -- first of all, let me step back: Infrastructure, in general, has for a long time -- right? --

Q: You mean the American Jobs Plan?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, we have seen polling that has shown that the American Jobs Plan is popular. We have seen both --

Q: The majority of Republicans support the American Jobs Plan?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, we've seen Republicans and Democrats and independents supporting the American Jobs Plan and even how to pay for it -- like we have seen that polling. And there are elements of the American Families Plan that are also popular -- when you think about universal pre-K, when you think about paying for two years of community college. So there -- we -- there are polling out there that's showing the popularity

of our --

Q: The polling that is out there shows that the majority of Republicans oppose it. So some Republicans do support it, but the majority do not.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Here's the thing: We're here in Louisiana, we're on this tour, and we're going to continue to have the conversation and talk directly to the American people.

Last week, as we know, we did the joint address. The President spoke directly to the American people about his plan.

Here's how we see it: We see it, in this moment -- especially in this moment of the pandemic -- we need to invest in this country; we need to invest in people; and that's how -- that's what this plan is going to do -- it will have a longer-lasting effect, especially after what we've seen this -- this past year.

And look, if you think about the American Rescue Plan -- that was overwhelmingly popular -- we have seen evidence of that working, as we're looking at the vaccine comprehensive strategy that the President has put forth, as we're looking at the $1,400 check -- the direct relief that Americans have had. And so we want to continue to build on -- on that, and that's how we see this.

Q: Karine, I've got a question -- off-topic question: Does the White House have any comment to the reports that are circulating that the Amtrak conductor that Biden referenced in his speech on Friday had actually been retired for 20 years when Biden said he made those comments? Does the White House have any comment or statement on that?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I -- I haven't seen -- I haven't seen that. But the President's long history with Amtrak and appreciation for the hardworking employees is very well known. He -- he was proud to commemor- -- commemorate Amtrak's 50th anniversary just last Friday, as we were noting, and to highlight the need for job-creating investments in America's infrastructure.

Q: Karine, on Ukraine, what's the President's current position on NATO's applic- -- sorry, Ukraine's application to join the NATO Alliance?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I'm sorry. Say -- say that last part? It's so hard to hear.

Q: Ukraine has asked to join the NATO Alliance. Can you explain the President's current position?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, so let me just first say that Secretary Blinken is in Kyiv right now to affirm our support for Ukraine sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence. His trip also emphasizes the importance of Ukraine passing key legislation to advance the rule of law, anti-corruption, and economic reforms that will strengthen Ukraine's democracy and economy, and further Euro-Atlantic integration.

To your question, Scott [Steven], the Biden administration is committed to ensuring that NATO's door remains open to aspirants when they are ready and able to meet the commitments and obligations of membership and can contribute to security in the Euro-Atlantic area.

The United States supports Ukraine's effort to advance rule-of-law reforms and economic growth and its borders -- in its border fight against Russian aggression.

Q: The door remaining open is not a no.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, it -- we -- we support -- we support it.

Q: You support Ukraine joining NATO?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I'm saying Ukr- -- yeah. Yeah. In the -- like I said, the Biden administration is committed to ensuring that NATO's door remains open to aspirants when they are ready and able to meet the commitments.

So they have to make -- meet the commitments and the obligations of membership, and contribute to security in the Euro-Atlantic area.

Q: There's also a report last night that the administration is considering using the Magnitsky Act against Central American leaders. Can you explain the thinking on that?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't have anything for you on that, in particular, but, you know, we can --

Q: Does President Biden intend -- will he -- will he broker any deals with allies to move troops or military assets from Afghanistan and put them into other areas in the world?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, what I can say to that is: As you know, when it comes to Afghanistan, the President's intent is clear, right? The U.S. military departure from Afghanistan will not be rushed or hasty. I just wanted to reiterate that.

It will be deliberate and conducted in a safe and responsible manner that ensures the protection of our forces.

Potential adversaries should know that if they attack us during our withdrawal, we will defend ourselves and our partners with all the tools are our -- at our disposal.

The withdrawing from Afghanistan is underway. And as the President has said, all will be completed by September.

Any other questions --

Q: But -- but does --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: -- I would refer you to the Department of Defense.

Q: -- does he plan to move any troops or assets somewhere else in the world to --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Alex, I'm going -- I would refer you to Department of Defense.

Q: Can I ask you for an update on the OMB director as well? What's the status of that?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't have any personnel announcement to preview for you today.

Q: How about on a job for Neera Tanden -- any updates there?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Nothing -- no -- no personnel announcement for you today on this ride to Louisiana. (Laughter.)

Q: Well, a lot of employers -- there's in the news -- they're struggling to find workers despite high unemployment still. And among the reasons are, you know, COVID fears or also, you know, some of the unemployment benefits people are pointing to.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah --

Q: Is the Biden administration concerned about that in holding back the economy?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I'll say this -- and thanks for your question, Alex: These unemployment programs have provided a lifeline to 47.9 million Americans, since the beginning of the pandemic, who lost their jobs through no fault of their own. These programs continue to provide critical benefits to those who have been hardest hit by the pandemic.

Look, we recognize that the labor supply has been affected by the pandemic. To your point, as you were just laying out with coronavirus and the -- and people's concerns about that and the childcare and school disruptions, we are seeing little evidence though that enhanced unemployment benefits are currently affecting Americans' willingness to work.

I mean, look, the way that we see it is that people want a job. Right? They want to be able to have those benefits. They want to be able to have the retirement benefits. So this is something that Americans really need and want.

And, you know, we still have a lot of work to do, which is why we put forth the American Jobs Plan, the American infrastructure plan -- which is why we see the American Rescue Plan really having an effect, and we see the evidence of that.

But we do see -- like, we do understand it. We should all understand that people really do want a job to protect their future and their family's future.

Q: Has the President seen the comments from Representative Cuellar, who said that the DHS facility pictures are misleading and that it looks like that they just moved them down the corner, and the DHS pictures showing the empty facilities is a bit misleading. Has the President seen those comments?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't have any update on if the President has seen those comments. I do -- I don't -- yeah, I don't have any -- I don't have any update on that for you. I -- I'll come back to you and give you more information.

Q: Do you have a strategy around evictions moratorium? The federal judge said it's plainly illegal what the administration did on that. What's -- what's your strategy going forward?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, we disagree with the District Court's decision. As the Department of Justice said yesterday, this decision conflicts with the rulings of other courts. And DOJ has already filed a notice of appeal. And last night, the judge granted an administration [administrative] stay for 10 days, meaning the moratorium will remain in effect until at least May 16th.

We recognize the importance of the eviction moratorium for Americans who have fallen behind on rent during the pandemic. At the end of April, there were over 6 million renters who had not paid back rent, according to the U.S. Census, making them more at risk of eviction.

Through a whole-of-government approach, we are working to ensure that rental assistance gets to those that need it the most.

Q: There was a report today that at least -- or something close to a dozen CIA officers may have been targeted in these energy attacks, and that there's an official investigation review underway. What can you tell us from the White House's side?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't have any more on that. I know Jen has spoken to it. I spoke to it last week. I would direct you to the State Department on that one.

Q: When are we going to see lifted restrictions on travel from Europe?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't have anything more for you on the travel.

Q: Are there ongoing discussions about lifting that though? I mean, I --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Clearly, you know, we talk to our experts on that. We -- we follow the experts and the doctors when it comes to -- when it comes to anything that's COVID- -- COVID-related, as you can imagine. But I don't have anything more on that.

Q: Are we stopping for beignets today? (Laughter.)

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That would be fun. I -- we'd all love beignets. (Laughs.)

Okay. Thanks, guys.

12:06 P.M.

Joseph R. Biden, Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/349832

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